Review: Roman and Jewel by Dana L. Davis

If Romeo and Juliet got the Hamilton treatment…who would play the leads? This vividly funny, honest, and charming romantic novel by Dana L. Davis is the story of a girl who thinks she has what it takes…and the world thinks so, too.

Jerzie Jhames will do anything to land the lead role in Broadway’s hottest new show, Roman and Jewel, a Romeo and Juliet inspired hip-hopera featuring a diverse cast and modern twists on the play. But her hopes are crushed when she learns mega-star Cinny won the lead…and Jerzie is her understudy.

Falling for male lead Zeppelin Reid is a terrible idea–especially once Jerzie learns Cinny wants him for herself. Star-crossed love always ends badly. But when a video of Jerzie and Zepp practicing goes viral and the entire world weighs in on who should play Jewel, Jerzie learns that while the price of fame is high, friendship, family, and love are priceless.

  • Title: Roman and Jewel
  • Author: Dana L. Davis
  • Publisher: Inkyard Press
  • Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
  • Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
  • Representation: Black main character, Black side characters
  • Trigger Warnings: Death of a parent (mentioned), mentions of suicide (drowning), underage drinking, underage recreational drug use, age gap relationship (16 and 19), jokes about mental health, mentions of a car crash
  • Rating:  ★★☆☆☆

Roman and Jewel had been on my “most anticipated” book list for quite some time, and I was really excited that I was able to read an ARC in December. I loved the idea of a book centering on a new musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with a Hamilton twist to it and what happens behind the scenes. I was thrilled to finally get my hands on it and was sadly disappointed as I read the book when it did not live up to my expectations. The book had a lot of potential, but for me, there are three huge flaws. 

The first, and the biggest issue that I have with the book, is the relationship between Jerzie and Zeppelin. While I understand that part of the idea was to have a Romeo and Juliet type romance between the two, that romance surely could’ve been done without having Jerzie be 16 and Zeppelin be 19. A huge problem in our society is the sexualization of minors. There are many ways that our society sexualizes minors and one of them is by portraying relationships between minors and adults in a “romantic” way. While an age gap of 3 years isn’t that large when people are in their 20’s or older, it is a huge age gap when a character is under the age of 18. Along with the age gap, the maturity levels between the two are completely different. Jerzie comes off much younger than her 16, almost 17, years and Zeppelin has had far more life experience than she has, making their relationship completely imbalanced. 

There is also zero communication between the two of them. Without giving too much away, there’s a big plot point in the middle of the book that makes Jerzie question if she really knows who Zeppelin is. She continually tries to get him to open up, and each time he replies with, “you have to trust me”, which feels like a cop-out. Once the truth is revealed, Jerzie proves that he could’ve confided in her and that she wouldn’t have said anything. What also bothered me about their relationship was the physical aspect of it. While they didn’t go further than kissing and some pg-13 touching, Jerzie got so annoyed every time Zeppelin asked her if it was okay to touch or kiss her. In my opinion, that gives the readers the message that as long as you say it’s okay once, your partner doesn’t need to confirm that you are okay with whatever is happening, which is absolutely false. In fact, the only thing about Zeppelin that didn’t annoy me was that he would make sure that Jerzie continually consented to anything that they were doing, which is a really low standard so that’s not saying much. Their entire relationship made me incredibly uncomfortable and what was worse was that none of the other characters saw any problems with their relationship. And, when Jerzie’s parents objected to the relationship, it didn’t even have anything to do with their age difference, which just baffles me. 

The second big flaw is that I found Jerzie to be completely unlikeable, to be honest. She’s dreamed of being on Broadway for most of her life and her parents have made many sacrifices for her to follow her dreams. She is completely selfish. Instead of being grateful for even being cast in this much anticipated musical as the standby for Jewel, she is moppy and complains the entire time. I fully understand being disappointed when you don’t land the role that you’d been hoping to get. Been there, done that, sucked it up and dealt with it. While, yes, mega-R&B star Cinny who gets the role of Jewel may not be the best for the role, Jerzie’s behavior is truly childish. I know so many people who would do absolutely anything to be a standby in a Broadway show and to just be involved with Broadway in any way (myself included) so reading a book about a character who has made it and then is incredibly ungrateful for the opportunity that she has been given was incredibly frustrating and made it difficult for me to find any sort of sympathy towards her. I understand that she’s excited to be out on her own and in New York City and be on Broadway, but the way that she treats her family who does nothing except try to help her is so exhausting and I was tired of it about 5 chapters in.

The third big flaw was the way that some of the characters discussed mental health. One character speculates about if another character will commit suicide as a way to manipulate someone else. The word “psycho” is used to discuss someone who had mental illness, and some of the other “jokes” include: 

“I took the ‘are you a sociopath’ quiz. It said I wasn’t.”
“Right. I didn’t take the maniac quiz, but I think I’d pass that one too”

Mental health is not something to joke about and I was incredibly uncomfortable that the author wrote these words and that no one on the editing team or publishing team said that they should be removed.

The premise for the musical sounds so cool and absolutely something that I would want to see. Unfortunately, I felt that the musical itself was really missing, though I don’t think this is necessarily a flaw with the writing or structure. I think I personally had assumed that the musical would play a larger role in the story than it actually did and then was disappointed when it didn’t play out the way I had assumed.

“It’s Shakespeare. A Romeo and Juliet reimagining. It’s called Roman and Jewel. But this version is a fantasy. After their suicide, they both end up in purgatory and are sentenced to infinite lives on earth until they can meet up again to, you know, right their wrongs.” 

The idea of the musical is what initially drew me to the story and that description sold me on the idea for this show. I was so excited to see it play out in the book, but apart from some audition scenes, maybe 4-5 short rehearsal scenes and a backstage scene before opening night, that was it. In my opinion, those were the most interesting parts of the book, but they, unfortunately, were few and far between. Towards the second half of the book (maybe a bit earlier) Roman and Jewel shifted to a soap opera drama. Once this shift happens, the story is mainly focused on the, again underaged, dramatic relationship between Jerzie and Zeppelin and what Cinny does to try and break them apart. Let’s be real, I love drama. I love reading about or watching overdramatized fictional situations, but even this was too much for me. I can’t really get into it without spoiling things, but I will say that I found it to be completely over the top especially towards the end.

There were a few things that I did enjoy though. In general, I liked Jerzie’s Aunt Karla. She told it like it was, put Jerzie in her place when she was being ungrateful and genuinely did have Jerzie’s best interest at heart. She was funny and sarcastic, and while she worked a lot, she was there for Jerzie as much as she could be. For the most part I also liked Jerzie’s brother, Judas, but we didn’t really get to know him enough for me to form an actual opinion.

The one other scene that I really enjoyed was when Jerzie’s parents came to visit her and they brought her best friend Riley. Throughout the book we hear about how Jerzie has worked so hard to get to where she is and how she loves theatre, but I felt like we didn’t really see it until this moment with Riley. Jerzie plays Maybe This Time from Cabaret for Riley, and the two girls are moved to tears after listening to the song. When the song is over, Riley says,

“I can relate, too. ‘Everybody loves a winner, so nobody loved me.’ Those lyrics. Is this at the heart of every competitive person? Striving so hard to be validated, you know? To be loved. To be a winner. It’s like a warped mindset of, if I could just win, everything will be okay”

That moment, I thought was absolutely beautiful and the first time where I fully connected to the story. That quote, I feel it, that’s how I feel when I listen to Maybe This Time, I can relate to that. And for a book that was supposedly centered around theatre and Jerzie’s connection to it, that was the first time where I really felt Jerzie and her passion for theatre was at the center of the story. 

I was so excited for this book, and I, unfortunately, was really disappointed. I’m giving it 1.5 stars, but rounding up to 2 because I think the overall story had potential.

As I am not Black, I would recommend checking out these ownvoice reviews: BookishEnds, TheLittLibrarian, and kalisbookishrambles.

Goodreads | TheStorygraph | Bookshop | IndieBound

Dana L. Davis is a novelist and Hollywood actress with previous series regular roles as: Carmen Phillips on TNT’s Franklin and Bash and modern day mimic Monica Dawson on NBC’s cult series Heroes.

She currently stars on the animated series Star Vs. the Forces of Evil,Craig of the Creek, and She-Ra. Dana has guest-starred in over 20 prestigious primetime series, including 911,ScorpionCode Black, Grey’s Anatomy, and CSI. She made her film debut in Coach Carter with Samuel Jackson.

In addition to her work on screen, Dana has become a motivational speaker for teens. Her stirring assemblies empower and encourage youth, helping them to redefine what it means to win and lose.

Extremely versatile, Dana is a screenwriter and a trained Violist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music from Loyola Marymount University. She volunteers for nonprofits like Empowering Lives International, an organization which provides training, resources, and encouragement to underprivileged East African children.

Dana also created her own nonprofit organization Culture For Kids, LA, an organization which gifts inner city children tickets and transportation to see performing arts shows around the Los Angeles area. 

Dana was raised in the Midwest and currently resides in Los Angeles with her 9-year-old daughter.

Website | Twitter | Instagram

3 thoughts on “Review: Roman and Jewel by Dana L. Davis

  1. this is such a lovely review, caitlyn! i was very excited for this one because of the musical aspect and for the romeo & juliet retelling (since i just finished these violent delights and need more!!) so i’m quite disappointed by what you mentioned… you made an excellent point, the romantic relationship between a minor and adult is often exaggerated and unrealistic, which irks me so much as well! and definitely, mental health should be taken seriously and the quote you included is disappointing. hopefully, the ownvoices representation is good, thank you for including the other reviews! i’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy this one much, but thank you so much for this incredible review! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for linking my review! One of the things I actually didn’t like about this book was the age gap but I was thinking it was just me a thing since I’m not a fan of them in general. Glad to know I’m not the only one who was thrown off by it!


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